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New York migration crisis: A Catholic Response


October 2, 2023
Columns from Bishop Brennan


Over the past year and a half, more than 100,000 migrants and asylum-seekers have arrived in New York City. Like many municipalities throughout the United States, especially those close to the southern border, our city has struggled to provide housing and other material assistance to those newly arrived.

Since 1979, New York has agreed to provide shelter and a bed to anyone who requests it. This “right to shelter” policy requires the city to find new places in which to house migrants, often within residential neighborhoods. Many New Yorkers are understandably concerned about the impact of this situation on local communities and public services. These concerns are valid and cannot be dismissed.

As Catholics, our response to this New York migration crisis is grounded in our faith and in the Church’s social teaching. Christ Himself told us that when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger, we do those things for Him. Our parishes and agencies have been doing just that for the migrants and asylum-seekers.

Catholic Charities of Brooklyn & Queens has taken the lead in providing material and legal support, and we are proud of the work they are doing. Likewise, our parishes have banded together to provide material support at the local level and of course, most importantly, the spiritual support of Mass and the sacraments, especially in languages that are familiar to migrants.

In all these endeavors, we are grounded in our determination to protect and promote the dignity of every person we serve. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church teaches us: “Every political, economic, social, scientific and cultural program must be inspired by the awareness of the primacy of each human being over society” (132).

Undocumented migrants are particularly vulnerable to assaults on their human dignity, especially at the hands of human traffickers and those who wish to exploit their labor.

The assistance we provide to migrants and asylum-seekers is separate from the political and social conversation surrounding our country’s immigration system. Some people misinterpret the Church’s care for individuals and groups as an endorsement of the conditions that have led to their arrival.

One commentator recently went so far as to call Catholic Charities a “racket” for providing services to migrants at the southern border. This is an unjustified insult to an agency that does so much good throughout our nation and especially here in Brooklyn and Queens.

For decades, the bishops of the United States have called for comprehensive immigration reform. We have recognized that immigration policies that lead to millions of individuals entering and remaining in the United States indefinitely without legal status are neither compassionate nor sustainable.

Moreover, these policies do not serve the common good of those who call our nation home. Thus, an integral part of comprehensive immigration reform would include secure borders and the maintenance of law and order. Catholic social teaching has always recognized the right of each nation to regulate immigration according to the principles of equity and balance and to ensure the integration of migrants into society.

Other aspects of reform would include an earned legalization program for undocumented migrants, increased permits for foreign-born workers, and efforts to address the root causes of migration from countries plagued by poverty and violence.  

In our deeply divided country, immigration is one of many politically charged issues. Politicians from all parties at the federal, state, and local levels point fingers at one another about who is responsible for the current New York migration crisis.

Compromise, productive debate, and discussion to find solutions will continue to be lacking if mutual respect for the God-given dignity of all is absent and the motives of those who seek to help individual migrants in need, such as Catholic Charities, are called into question.

How can we hope to come together as a society to solve these grave problems? We must deepen our commitment to another principle of Catholic social teaching: solidarity. This principle recognizes the interdependence of individuals and groups of people on the international, national, and local levels. Pope St. John Paul II taught in his encyclical “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,” that solidarity is “a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good. That is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all” (38).

Only a society that is committed to the principle of solidarity can find solutions to the New York migration crisis and other challenges that we face.     

The supreme model of solidarity is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became man, lived among His people, and offered His life to save us from our sins.  Inspired by the Lord, we must seek to grow in our solidarity with everyone, especially those in greatest need of our material and spiritual support.

Read the original column in The Tablet – Migration: A Catholic Response